From AD 950 until 1650 Frome, the pretty market town south of Bath, was a thriving centre of wool and cloth production. Its name is derived from the Old English word for fair and fine, which it certainly is. As the 17thand 18thcenturies progressed, great wealth accumulated from the metal working and printing industries enabled rich merchants’ houses to be built along one of its most famous promenades, St.Catherine’s Hill.
In The Little Red Café we meet Fay Goodridge, who runs the listings magazine The List Frome at www.thelistfrome.co.uk, and she tells us she moved to Frome 20 years ago and to St.Catherine’s Hill five years after that. When she stood at the top of the hill looking down its cobbled pathway, many of the buildings were quite derelict then, many of its shops boarded up, landlords were either absent or negligent and the recession of the early 1990’s had taken its toll on this once prosperous enclave. But she thought to herself that the sheer beauty of the hill, its architecture and its location would surely underpin its future renaissance and she was not wrong. Frome is now home to nearly 30 000 people, and St. Catherine’s Hill has turned into one of the South West’s most popular shopping destinations. For artisanal wares, antiques, vintage clothes, haberdashery, hardware, the old, the original and the unusual, it is very rare to find anywhere quite like it in the world. For quality, service and charm it beats Portobello Road in London hands down. It is a creative, bohemian alley: a firm rebuttal to the bland and boring high streets now monopolised by huge brands.
The Little Red Café is the perfect coffee and lunch rendezvous at the very top of the hill, your welcome prize for its ascent. As you walk through its cheery doors your heart is lifted and your curiosity aroused. It is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to seat everyone comfortably and without crush. It serves Fairtrade Mozzo coffee, Hampstead Fine Teas, bagels, soups, sandwiches, cakes, pastries, biscuits and ice creams. All the dishes are written up on a big black board. You will want to look all around to take in the style tips.
The décor is retro 1950’s and 1960’s, with a bit of old American diner influence. Red and white are the central colours, with wooden floors, big windows, scrubbed tables and pamphlets and posters showing you what’s on locally, what to do and where to go. From Tuesday to Saturday, from 9am to 5pm, locals and visitors gather here, some bring their computers to do their work, others bring their children after school for a treat and the shopkeepers use it as their community hub. It is also open from 9am till 2pm on the first Sunday of each month, when there is normally a market. It is an exemplary place that celebrates all that is good about living in a market town. Just like Frome itself, it is indeed fair and fine.
The Little Red Cafe
16 St.Catherine’s Hill
Frome BA11 1BZ
Telephone: 01373 228806